“The right task + the right people + the right setting = unprecedented actions.”

-Marvin Weisbord, adapted by Claros Group

You know in your gut that a lot of time gets wasted in meetings. However, did you know that:

  • Middle managers spend 35% of their time in meetings?
  • Upper management spend 50% of their time in meetings?
  • 67% of employees complain that spending too much time in meetings prevents them from being productive at work?
  • More than 35% of employees found that they waste 2 to 5 hours a day on meetings and calls without achieving anything to show?[1]

Clearly this is not sustainable – yet it’s been going on for some time and is trending in the wrong direction. Want to put a stop to this downward spiral? Then keep reading.

This week Underwood Talent Development Services Inc. (UTDS) starts a four-part feature dealing with issues related to the planning, execution and follow-up of great meetings.  Note well: we said great meetings; not just any old meeting.  So, of course, we need to start off by defining what constitutes a great meeting.

So from the UTDS perspective, here are six key elements required for a great meeting:

  1. A clear purpose which is also fit for purpose – i.e. a meeting is the best suited medium to accomplish the task at hand;
  2. The right people in the “room”[2] – i.e. the people with the required knowledge, skills, information and authority;
  3. Adequate notice – i.e. timely communication including the meeting date and time, venue, duration, required preparation and targeted outcomes;
  4. Effective facilitation: The person chairing the meeting needs to adopt the 5Ps motto – i.e. Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance.[3]  
  5. Timely and aligned action – this element addresses both the when and how (i.e. quality/standards) associated with the implementation of decisions taken during the meeting.[4]
  6. Follow-up and Evaluation – it is absolutely essential to close the loop by reviewing progress to ascertain and ensure that the purpose which was established has, in fact, been met.

So having established our working definition for a great meeting, let’s now apply our minds to what needs to take place prior to said meeting.

Clear Purpose

So why did you decide to convene a meeting in the first place?  Is it that you have information to share?  Do you really need a meeting in order to do so? Or could you utilize some other channel to get the information out – e.g. circulating a report or sending an email? If the communication channel you need is one-directional, then a meeting really isn’t your best choice/forum.  The caveat here is that it’s important to ensure that you identify a mechanism for persons to seek clarification if necessary.

This infographic from “Do You Really Need to Hold That Meeting” provides a useful decision-making protocol.

Or perhaps you need input from members of your team or external stakeholders. That is indeed a legitimate purpose for a meeting.  However, it is essential that you clearly communicate that to the invitees.  Otherwise folks could show up to the meeting without the critical information that you need.  What’s your chosen format/methodology for seeking the desired input?  Will it be via brainstorming? Open discussions?  These distinctions should be made and communicated to meeting invitees to enable them to be adequately prepared to contribute.

Sometimes, the purpose for the meeting goes beyond seeking input and holding discussions/brainstorming to actually making decisions. If so, all parties need to be clear on the rules of decision-making.  Will there be an opportunity to vote? Will it be decision by consensus? Do you – or someone else higher up in the organization – have veto power? Establishing such issues up front can minimize the risk of misunderstandings and dysfunctional conflict.

Right People

Ever sat in a meeting wondering why on earth you were there; whether you were being punished for some unknown offense? The reality is that meeting attendees often feel like hostages. One way to avoid causing such hostage situations is to ensure that you have the right people in the room.  And just how do you determine who are the right people?  Well that depends on your purpose as outlined above. 

You may wish to consider providing invitees with the latitude to delegate attendance to the member of their team who is best equipped to support the meeting’s purpose.  This would be particularly appropriate when engaging stakeholder organizations.  The President of the organization isn’t necessarily the one who has the knowledge, information or skills that you need.  If it’s a meeting where decisions will be taken, you need to ensure that the persons around the table have the legitimate authority and that the entities they represent have consented to be bound by the outcomes of the decision-making process.  Otherwise your entire process could be derailed.

Adequate Notice

One of the most common complaints all up and down the organizational chart is a lack of time.  Conflicting priorities probably comes in a close second. Therefore, if you truly want meeting invitees to show up for you, it’s absolutely essential that you give them adequate notice and confirm their availability.

However, you want persons to do more than just show up.  You want to ensure that they’re optimally prepared.  Here again, time is essential – especially in those cases where you’re going to be relying on attendees to provide information or contribute to decision-making.  Therefore, available/relevant background documents should accompany the meeting notice, and it should be made absolutely clear that the meeting will proceed based on the assumptions that participants have completed the background readings.

Other critical elements to be included in the meeting notice include venue, date and time, duration, meeting format/process and the agenda including targeted outcomes.  The final element is particularly important to help invitees answer the “what’s in it for me?” question.

So today, we’ve examined the importance of having a clear purpose, getting the right people in the room and providing adequate notice of the meeting.  In the next installment in this blog series, the rubber meets the road as we take you through what’s required to effectively facilitate a great meeting.  In the meantime, we would love to hear your stories about great and not-so-great meetings that you’ve attended or hosted… 

[1] Source: https://blog.otter.ai/meeting-statistics/

[2] With the increased prevalence of virtual teams and geographically dispersed organizations, meeting rooms need not be a physical space but include online platforms such as Skype, GoToMeeting, WebEx, Microsoft Teams, Zoom etc.  Great meeting principles apply no matter the nature of the meeting room.

[3] The specific facilitation elements required for a great meeting will be addressed in part two of this blog series.

[4] The fifth element will be addressed in the third part of the great meeting series while the fourth and final instalment in the series will be devoted to the various other considerations which help to make meetings successful.



  • survivor-of-meetings-that-should-have-been-emails

    Loving the article and looking forward to the rest of the series. Some bosses love to have staff meetings about things that could have been an email or a notice on the notice board. I had a superior who would call a meeting to discuss an issue but leads off with an opening statement of what her preferred choice is and why it is the best decision – then turns around and ask what the staff thinks. Another one of her tactics is to wait until majority would have voted on a position to then casually make a new suggestion and get supporters to dismiss the majority. If you have already made up your mind what you are going to do, why waste time to call a meeting?

    A lot of workplaces have gone the route of staff WhatsApp groups where the boss can start discussing work matters and get timely feedback. Then the next day, a meeting is called to then rehash the same arguments and more thus wasting valuable time. I’m also tired of the blanket meetings where there is an issue with one employee but everyone is being reprimanded and threatened about something they have no idea was happening. Sometimes the guilty party is not even present! I don’t think employers know how this practice affects productivity and staff morale.

    Hoping that this makes the newspapers because employees’ mental health matter

    • You’ve raised some great points! Thank you so much for weighing in. I can relate to a number of the bad habits that you listed. It really has a terrible impact on employee morale and can cause stress to skyrocket.

      We really need to break the pattern of poorly organized and facilitated meetings. The next issue will focus on what’s required to facilitate a great meeting. In the meantime, I encourage you to share this article with your network. Those who know better do better – we hope…

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